The Universe in Verse: Sarah Kay Reads Whitman and Performs Her Splendid Song-Poem “Astronaut”

” A leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars,” Walt Whitman bellowed from the golden age of American astronomy, through which he lived wide-eyed with marvel and ablaze with a belief in the unity of whatever, the interconnectedness and inter-belonging of whatever– the telescopic and the tiny, the wondrous and the wretched. A century and a half later on, his soul-salving poems continue to welcome the stunning and the terrible similarly as particles of our mankind, for he knew that they were particles of his He called himself a “kosmos”; across dates and generations, across area and time, he continues to speak with deep space in each of us.

Whitman’s animating values and its cosmic motivations were the topic of an unique miniature edition of The Universe in Verse I hosted on Governors Island, entitled The Astronomy of Walt Whitman— a double event of the beloved poet’s bicentennial and the endeavor to develop New York City’s first public observatory at Pioneer Functions, just throughout the East River, which the poet himself traversed day-to-day aboard the ferries he valued as “great living poems.”

Amongst the entertainers was chemistry significant turned poet and spoken-word maestra Sarah Kay, co-founder of Job VOICE— a terrific effort dealing with trainees from kindergarten to university worldwide, using poetry as a portal of delight and a tool of empowerment to give young people not only a language of self-expression but a mode of self-understanding– which is, naturally, the foundation of other-understanding and of all the worths Whitman so treasured and celebrated in his verse: democracy, love, justice, self-acceptance, social harmony. What delight it would have been for Whitman, who so often attended to the poets of the future, to hear one such poet of unusual skill channel his immortal words epochs after he returned his obtained stardust to deep space.


by Walt Whitman

I believe a leaf of yard is no less than the journey work of the stars,

And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg

of the wren,

And the tree-toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the greatest,

And the running blackberry would decorate the parlors of paradise,

And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to refuse all machinery,

And the cow crunching with depress ‘d head goes beyond any statue,

And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.

I find I integrate gneiss, coal, long-threaded moss, fruits,

grains, esculent roots,

And am stucco ‘d with quadrupeds and birds all over,

And have actually distanced what is behind me for good factors,

But call any thing back once again when I want it.

Fruitless the speeding or shyness,

Fruitless the plutonic rocks send their old heat against my technique,

Fruitless the mastodon retreats below its own powder ‘d bones,

In vain things stand leagues off and assume manifold shapes,

In vain the ocean settling in hollows and the terrific beasts lying low,

Fruitless the buzzard houses herself with the sky,

Fruitless the snake slides through the creepers and logs,

In vain the elk requires to the inner passes of the woods,

In vain the razor-bill ‘d auk sails far north to Labrador,

I follow rapidly, I rise to the nest in the crack of the cliff.

As a complement to the Whitman classic and the huge overtone of the show, I asked Sarah to read among her own poems as well– a perspectival work of art entitled “Astronaut” and discovered in her altogether remarkable and splendidly entitled poetry collection No Matter the Wreckage( town library). That she performed it hours after the first-ever all-female spacewalk just adds to the cascading loveliness of the occasion– in Whitman’s day, females could barely walk to the opera without a male escort; how pleased he would have been, given his ardent persistence on ladies’s equality as a pillar of democracy and his pronouncement that “deep space has absolutely nothing much better than the best womanhood,” to see 3 female astronauts stroll boldly into interplanetary space.


by Sarah Kay

I see the moon, the moon sees me. The moon sees someone I don’t see.

God bless the moon, and God bless me. And God bless the someone that I don’t see.

If I get to paradise prior to you do, I’ll make a hole and pull you through.

I’ll compose your name on every star. And that way the world will not appear so far.

The astronaut will not be at work today. He has contacted ill.

He has turned off his cellular phone, his pager, his laptop, his alarm clock.

There is a fat yellow cat asleep on his couch, rain versus his windows,

and not even a hint of coffee in the kitchen air.

Everyone remains in a tizzy.

The engineers on the fifteenth flooring have quit working

on the particle maker, the anti-gravity space is leaking,

and even the freckled kid with glasses (whose just job is to clean

out the trash) fidgets: fumbles the bag, spills a banana peel

and a paper cup. No one notifications.

They are too busy determining just how much this will mean for wasted time.

How many galaxies are we losing per minute;-LRB-

and for how long before the rocket can be released?


An electron flies off the energy cloud.

A black hole has actually appeared.

A mother completes setting the table for dinner.

A Law & Order marathon is starting.

The astronaut is asleep.

He has forgotten to turn off his watch,

which ticks versus his wrist like a metal pulse.

He does not hear it.

He imagines coral reefs and plankton.

His fingers discover the pillowcases cruising masts.

He turns on his side, opens his eyes as soon as.

He thinks that scuba divers should have the most terrific job in the word.

A lot water

to slide through.

For more wonders from The Universe in Verse, savor astrophysicist Janna Levin reading Whitman’s traditional ” When I Heard the Learn ‘d Astronomer,” Adrienne Rich’s ” Planetarium,” and Maya Angelou’s ” A Brave and Startling Truth,” which skyrocketed to the stars aboard the Orion spacecraft, then review Neil Gaiman’s touching poetic tribute to the Quaker astronomer who verified relativity and catapulted Einstein into star, uniting war-torn humanity under one cosmic dome of truth.

Beautiful Whitman-era portraiture by Brooklyn Tintype

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Marco Bitran
Husband and father of two children under age 5, Marco also enjoys walks in nature, squash, running road races, and photography. He regularly contributes significant time and resources to the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the MSPCA and other animal rights organizations, and the Bitran Charitable Foundation. Marco has also volunteered and consulted for public housing support organizations such as the Somerville Homeless Coalition, created by the local community’s grassroots response to the social crisis of homelessness.